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With Art You Can Change the World
With Art You Can Change the World
Wolfgang Koppe,artist ,sculptor and woodcarver was held as a Prisoner of War at Dalston Camp in Cumbria, a number of his artworks produced during that time are now held by the Tullie House Museum
This book tells his story and illustrates his art. From his early life in Germany, his experience of the war and his captivity returning to Russian Occupied East Germany. Though life was a struggle Koppe was able to follow his love of art and through his work with the community winning a major award in 2005.
Little Bird Publications
Paperback; H:295; W:210;
44 black & white, 17 colour
With Art You Can Change the World: the Life of Wolfgang Koppe by Gloria Edwards. £8.99
All our lives are a thread running through history.
Wolfgang Koppe was born in Bad Schmeideberg in Germany in 1926. His father was a tailor. He loved painting animals. Aged fourteen, he became a reluctant member of the Hitler Youth. He also helped his grandfather paint wall murals.
He was seventeen when he was placed in charge of a horse team hauling cannon to the front line in Cherbourg.
He was captured by the Americans, and after a time in Britain, he was taken as a prisoner of war across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary and found himself in a detention camp at Boston. He made himself a paint box and, throughout his detention, he continued to draw and paint.
After the war, he was taken with other prisoners to a holding camp in Belgium, where many of his contemporaries died from malnutrition.
Instead of returning to Germany as he expected, Wolfgang was brought to England. He was placed in a small camp at Dalston, next to Dalston Hall.
"Whilst at the camp, Wolfgang and the other men were taken out in military trucks to work each day on the land, mostly in teams of around ten men, supervised by a guard." They cut bracken. Wolfgang sharpened the scythes. One day, incensed at a guard who repeatedly called him a "Fascist pig", he grabbed him by the jacket and disarmed him. But above everything, he painted.
A Carlisle education officer, Mr MacDonald, recognised Wolfgang's talent and arranged for him to go to Carlisle Art College. Between 1946 and 1948 he attended classes held in Tullie House and earned a diploma.
As tensions reduced in the years after the war, he found himself mixing with other young people. He went to dances and youth clubs. "Wolfgang would get a free tea for playing German songs for others to listen to." He became close friends with a local girl, Jackie Sheckley, and they would often go together to the church in Upperby.
He was befriended by a lecturer, George Gascoigne, who taught portrait painting and anatomy, and he became a regular guest at the home of Mr Wakefield, who was the caretaker at Dalston Hall.
He found himself growing increasingly homesick. He longed to return home even though friends advised him about the Communist regime in East Germany. Jackie was invited to go with him, with an assurance that she could return if she did not like things in Germany. Jackie remained in England and Wolfgang returned.
He was under suspicion. He hid his art diploma in his shoe. He was placed in a Russian holding camp at Piesteritz for two months, but eventually he arrived at his parents' home in Wittenberg.
He found work sweeping the roads at a vast organo-chlorine plant. When Stalin died in 1953, he was asked to paint a giant picture - some five metres high - of the dead leader. To progress in his work, he found it necessary to join the Communist Party. He married, and, widowed, he married again and had a family. His role as an artist grew. He travelled to Yugoslavia and Siberia and exhibited regularly in Czechoslovakia and developed his work in painting and sculpture. He also taught art.
After German reunification, state sponsorship of his art work stopped. In 2005, he was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit.
He returned to Carlisle for a holiday in 1998. Jackie was suffering from a long-term illness and she chose not to contact Wolfgang "because she wanted to be remembered as she was in those happy times, when she and Wolfgang had known each other so well."
Gloria Edwards tells Wolfgang's story simply and clearly and the book is illustrated with reproductions of his paintings and sculptures as well as photographs.
It is a quiet testimony to one twentieth century life.
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